Now You Know: This Is the Secret to Beating Jet Lag

Updated 05/01/19
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While traveling to far-flung destinations and exploring the cultural hot spots of the world is always on our must-do list, there's one thing we dread every time: jet lag. That out-of-body experience and groggy post-flight haze combined with an unknown territory (and sometimes a foreign language, too) can be incredibly overwhelming and has been known to ruin the first few days of vacation time, especially if you have to sleep it off. Obviously, this isn't ideal when you only have one week off work.

So how do you combat the loathsome effects of jet lag? For the answer, we turned to our most trusted travel insiders: our readers. Their combined wanderlust far exceeds our own, and as many of them travel long-distance for work, we knew they'd have a few tips and tricks up their well-manicured sleeves. So without further ado, read on for some of the best (and most surprising) advice on how to beat jet lag.

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Drink a Ton of Water

Okay, so this one might seem obvious, but it's surprising once you board the plane how much H20 your body craves. And it's not just during the flight when you need it most. According to one travel insider, you need to hydrate before, during, and after if you want to beat the dreaded jet lag.

"The key is drinking tons of water, and I mean tons," says @flamingeau. "A lot of what jet lag is is actually dehydration from not having a normal eating schedule on dry airplanes. So drink constantly on the plane and when you arrive in your destination drink at least 16 ounces immediately."

Our top tip: Drink as much as you can before the flight, but since you can't take water (or any fluids over 100 milliliters) through security, bring an empty flask, fill it up before you board, and sip throughout the flight.

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Add Vitamins to Your Water

While there are a million products out there, our readers have spoken, and there's a couple that seems to come up more than others. "I use the generic Emergen-C with zinc added," says @maleahjacobs. "About one hour before, during, and after the flight." If you've tried that with no luck, then here's another vitamin hack our readers swear by. "[No-Jet-Lag] from Whole Foods," adds @Bpherold. "It actually helps quite a bit." 

Our top tip: Bring these in dry form with you on the plane and add them to your water bottle (see above). We also swear by Hydralyte on-the-go hydration tablets. They're packed with electrolytes to hydrate fast, plus they're small and light enough to fit into your purse or carry-on. Or you can bypass water altogether and take the new Care Of Quick Sticks. They melt in your mouth and taste delicious too.  

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Wear Compression Socks

While you probably pack thick socks for the plane already, one reader advises us all to switch them out for the compression variety, especially if the flight is over five hours long. "It sounds silly, but when I wear my compression socks that I have for running, it helps with blood circulation and keeps my legs from feeling heavy and sluggish when I land," says Ruth Smith. "In the winter I will wear them when we go for long days of walking and [sightseeing]. It seriously helps with the fatigue and keeps my ankles from swelling."

Our top tip: Pack two pairs so you can wear the second one when you reach your destination. It helps to keep the swelling away after long-haul flights.

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Get on the Time Zone You're Traveling To

If you're planning a trip across many time zones, we know how debilitating it can be on your sleep and mental state. But one insider has a genius suggestion. "Get onto the time zone you're traveling to during the flight," shares Jordan Feise. "Clocks on your phone are super helpful with this. If it's night there, relax and try to sleep. If it's daytime, try to stay up."

Our top tip: Download the jet lag app Entrain. According to NPR, there are a few out there, but this one has the science to back it up.

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Forget Your Former Time Zone

So if you do download the aforementioned app and get on your destination's time zone midflight, then it's important you forget about your old one. "Once you're at your destination, never do the 'oh it's such-and-such time at home' comment," advises Cate Pileggi, "or even think about it. I find if I only think about the current time zone, my mind and body adjust more quickly."

Our top tip: Make a pact with the people you're traveling with not to mention the old time zone, and when someone does, you have to add $1 to the jar, or however you'd prefer to incentivize it.

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Clean Up as Soon as You Land

While the usual in-transit tricks are important, this insider says there's more to it than that, and it involves cleaning and self-care once you disembark the plane. "It's the stuff I do when I arrive that makes a bigger difference for jet lag," says Elise Carlton. "I change my clothes, wash my face, brush my teeth, shower, whatever level of clean I have time for. I bring a hydrating sheet mask (e.g., Too Cool for School, Dr. Jart+, Tatcha) that I use right after travel. I take preventative Advil all day.

Depending on where I'm going and how long I'm there, I'll find a grocery store and get a few of my favorite (healthy) snacks just to have familiar food in my orbit."

Our top tip: Packing a well-stocked toiletries bag with all your favorites will make you feel right at home in your hotel room. Take a bath and pamper yourself.

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Choose a Low-Sodium Meal on Board

Since hydration is key when flying, it pays to cut back on the salt. It's something this reader swears by. "One thing that is very important for me is I always choose the low sodium meal," says Mariana Fernandez Mora. "That simple change makes me arrive fresher and without a bloated stomach."

Our top tip: Check your airline to see if it offers low-sodium meals when you book. Some airlines like KLM offer special menus free of charge just before check-in.

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Follow the 9 P.M. Rule

One of the most interesting tips from our readers was the 9 p.m. rule. "No matter where I fly to, I stay up at least until 9 p.m. (not getting into bed before then), and no napping is allowed," stressed Lauren Bostrom. "For waking up, I make myself stay asleep or in bed until 7.30 a.m. at the earliest so that from day one I'm adjusted to my new time zone. On planes, I try to sleep the whole time if the place I'm traveling to is five to eight hours ahead of me, and only an hour or two if it's five to eight hours behind.

Upon landing, I abide by the 9 o'clock rule, though."

Out top tip: Set your alarm for 9 p.m. to make sure you stay up, and when it goes off, you have your cue to sleep!

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Read Books Instead of Watching Movies

We're all familiar with the health implications and impact of smartphones on our sleep, and according to our readers, this also applies when traveling on a plane, perhaps even more so. "I've been doing more research on blue light (cell phones, laptops, electronic screens) and plan to avoid them while flying during the time I should be sleeping," says Effie Thayer. "At least try to give my brain a break." But not all blue lights were created equal. In fact, this insider says you can buy some that help you adjust faster when traveling.

"The Philips GoLite Blu light therapy device is life changing," shares Jenna Teruya. "It's a small portable and rechargeable blue light device and comes with instructions on how to use it in advance of travel, during travel and post-travel depending on which direction you are traveling. It has worked wonders with resetting my clock much faster than anything else I've tried and takes about five to ten minutes each day. I've also read that light exercise in the morning helps reset your clock faster too."

Our top tip: Movies and long-haul flights go hand in hand—we totally get it too. When you can't go anywhere and are cramped up in a seat, it can get pretty boring. Perhaps just limit your time so you're not on a device or looking at a screen the entire flight.

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Comfort Is Key

When you know you have a long trip ahead of you, making sure you're cozy and warm is crucial. Comfort is everything (for reference, this is the number one travel outfit to wear). "Wear comfortable clothing, socks, and footwear," says Joan Marentis Kelly. "Dressing in layers is the best way to be prepared for whatever weather conditions you may encounter. Then make sure you have a sleep mask, necklace pillow and a thin airline blanket (so worth the $6 upcharge because then it's yours to take on many trips).

But maintaining comfort isn't just about clothing.

Kelly adds, "Lavender essential oil roller is essential for sleep while the orange one is great for waking. Move often to avoid stiffness and swelling even if it's just chair yoga when the aisle isn't available. Use eye drops to combat dry tired eyes." Fellow insider Hannah Black Benak agrees with the beauty routine midflight to ramp up the comfort factor. "I use a vitamin-infused facial spray to keep my skin hydrated in flight (love the one from First Aid Beauty)," she says. "Also, I pack a blackout sleep mask, blanket and the TravelRest pillow (a lifesaver).

I can never sleep on planes but that pillow has saved me on numerous international flights."

Our top tip: No one wants to roll up to the airport in their sweats, so we recommend dressing in your usual stylish clothing for security, making sure to pack a set of comfier clothes for the long haul so you can change on board.

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Next up: This travel editor flies over 100,000 miles a year. Here's how she beats jet lag.

This story was originally published on March 25, 2017, and has since been updated.

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